“Every time I write a book, I go back and cut out some of the funniest parts.”
Timothy Hallinan’s name appeared back on the New Mysteries bookshelves after a ten-year absence with A Nail Through The Heart, the first in a series of novels set in Thailand. Dealing with prostitution and child exploitation Bangkok, there wasn’t much room for jokes. The grim reality that inspired the setting was counter-balanced only by the persistence of the main characters– an expat travel writer, a bar girl, and two street kids– trying to build a family in a corrupt country. When protagonist Poke Rafferty wasn’t uncovering forgotten war crimes, he was helping his wife start a business for ex-prostitutes and adopting abandoned children.
They’re very good books, but they aren’t “fun”. And though I don’t mind the darkness of Hallinan’s second home, Rafferty and his family are a little too blessed to engage me. There’s never a sense that they’re in permanent danger. And while it’s made clear that Rafferty used to be less of a white knight, by the time the series starts, he’s practically a moral paragon. I prefer my private eyes drowning in Singhas, pissing away what little goodwill they have left from the women in their lives.
In Crashed, Junior Bender is somewhere in between those two archetypes. He’s a good guy who loves his ex-wife and adores his super-smart daughter more than anything. He’s also unapologetically a professional burglar, and he has a reputation for using the skills of his trade to deliver justice pro bono to criminals who deserve it. It’s that Robin Hood streak that brings him to the attention of a mob heiress with a desperate, distasteful plan to go straight. With a little leverage, she secures Junior’s help in making sure a nineties child star lives long enough to make her first porn film.
The story in Crashed is slight. Junior’s ex-wife and daughter are barely sketched, and Junior’s criminal cohorts are given more history than he is. There’s a significant amount of attention brought to the actress’ ability to mimic anyone she meets that never plays out. But it’s Hallinan’s wry humor, and a sense of casual entertainment industry menace, that propels the narrative. Having him back in his home territory is a thrill.